Background: Gross cystic disease fluid protein 15 (GCDFP-15), which is regulated by the androgen receptor (AR), is a diagnostic marker for mammary differentiation in histopathology. We determined the expression of GCDFP-15 in breast cancer subtypes, its potential prognostic and predictive value, as well as its relationship to AR expression. Methods: 602 pre-therapeutic breast cancer core biopsies from the phase III randomized neoadjuvant GeparTrio trial (NCT00544765) were investigated for GCDFP-15 expression by immunohistochemistry. Expression data were correlated with disease-free (DFS) and overall survival (OS) time as well as pathological complete response (pCR) to neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Results: 239 tumors (39.7%) were GCDFP-15 positive. GCDFP-15 expression was positively linked to hormone receptor (HR) and HER2 positive tumor type, while most triple negative carcinomas were negative (p < 0.0001). GCDFP-15 was also strongly correlated to AR expression (p 0.001), and to the so-called molecular apocrine subtype (HR-/AR+, p < 0.0001). Higher rates of GCDFP-15 positivity were seen in tumors of lower grade (<0.0001) and negative nodal status (p = 0.008). GCDFP-15 positive tumors tended to have a more favourable prognosis than GCDFP-15 negative tumors (DFS (p = 0.052) and OS (p = 0.044)), which was not independent from other factors in multivariate analysis. GCDFP-15 expression was not linked to pCR. Histological apocrine differentiation was frequent in molecular apocrine carcinomas (60.7%), and was associated with GCDFP-15 within this group (p = 0.039). Conclusions: GCDFP-15 expression is higher in tumors with favorable prognostic features. GCDFP-15 expression is further a frequent feature of AR positive tumors and the molecular apocrine subtype. It might have reduced sensitivity as a diagnostic marker for mammary differentiation in triple negative tumors as compared to HR or HER2 positive tumor types. Electronic supplementary material: The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-546) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.